In a recent town hall meeting about city property tax increases, frustration opened a door for three alderwomen to preview what is expected to be a pillar of their political campaigns this fall: who represents Savannah’s haves and have nots. 

Savannah Alderwomen Keisha Gibson-Carter, Alicia Miller Blakely and Bernetta Lanier hosted a town hall meeting at Carver Village about the upcoming vote on the city’s millage rate. At the meeting on July 13, the 3 council members expressed concerns about Woodville, Cloverdale, Brickyard and Carver Village.

Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter (At-Large Post 1), Alderwoman Bernetta Bryant Lanier (District 1) and Alderwoman Alicia Miller Blakely (At-Large Post 2) at a town hall meeting in Carver Village, Thursday, July 13, 2023. Credit: Craig Nelson

The three women were the only city council members to vote against the decision last year to pass the lowest millage rate in 35 years. They urged residents of the westside neighborhoods to attend the public hearing on July 27 about the issue because of how it affects them and their communities’ quality of life. Property taxes fund city projects such as storm drainage, flooding, sidewalks and police. 

Gibson-Carter and her allies on city council told residents that they are authentic advocates for their communities by monitoring the city’s “wasteful spending”  that she says has neglected low-income residents, while asking them to pay more taxes. 

“Politicians will tell you that they are not raising your taxes, however, because the value of your property will increase and based on your property value, as it is multiplied by the interest rate which is higher than it was last year…your taxes will increase, that’s the bottom line,” she said.

The millage rate, refers to the tax charged per $1,000 of assessed property value, it is used as a means of maintaining stable revenues generated from properties.

City council next week will discuss the plan recommended by City Manager Jay Melder to increase revenue from commercial and industrial property owners through the Stephens-Day exemption. He said the plan aims to maintain the lowest mill rate in over 35 years while capturing the potential revenue growth. 

If approved, the plan is expected to generate an additional $7.7 million in revenue, which he says will be allocated towards three specific stormwater and drainage projects along the Ogeechee Springfield Canal.

Gibson-Carter opposes this point of view. She raised questions about what the city, county and board of education have done with considerable federal subsidies, which she says has brought over $200 million in Chatham County. Instead, she blamed city officials for not prioritizing spending for the historic westside neighborhoods. Gathered residents understood the criticism to include Mayor Van Johnson, who Gibson-Carter hopes to unseat this fall.

“Can you feel where that money has gone? Do you see where that money has gone? And so if your property taxes paid for roads, police fire infrastructure, sidewalks, street paving, why should we be asking you to pay for it and you haven’t received it” she said. 

These majority Black districts are important to the three alderwomen’s election hopes this fall.

Both council members Lanier and Blakely won Woodville and Carter Village by substantial margins, and retaining these voters will be key to Blakely, who is the first Black woman to hold Savannah’s At-Large Post 2 seat.

Blakely’s opponent Patrick Rossiter, a lifelong educator, differs on the issue of millage rates. He sees the value in keeping rates the same, which is the plan supported by Melder and Mayor Johnson.

“I think it’s very important that we use the opportunity to take what I believe it’s approximately $7 million and pull it toward the drainage issues in the city,” said Rossiter. 

Lanier, a native Savannahian, will be unchallenged in the upcoming election. However, the challengers for Gibson-Carter’s seat had differing opinions on the upcoming vote. 

Roshida Edwards, a small business owner, said she supports a rollback on the milage rate “We have a lot of residents and citizens that have incurred increased rent because of land owners or property owners, property taxes going up over the years.” “Right now people are just trying to get stable and they need as much consistency as possible from our local government.” 

Marc Anthony Smith, a former Savannah Police employee, said that he supports the current proposal as it is the lowest millage rate in years; however, he would like for the property tax to remain the same. “However, due to the nature of this economy, as property values rise, the property tax will increase,” he said. “What I would like to see is a parallel growth of community improvement while property value rises.” 

The third candidate for the At-Large Post 1, Antwan Lang, former Chatham County member of the Chatham County Board of Elections member declined to comment on the upcoming vote on the millage rate. 

Curtis Singleton President of The Mediation Center of the Coastal Empire also declared for At-Large Post 1 as well.

The qualifying period for candidates will begin on Aug. 21, with the final election day set for Nov. 7.

Back in 2019, Gibson-Carter won 50 percent of the vote against incumbent Carol Bell while also capturing 59 percent of Woodville and 67 percent of Carver Village. 

In 2019 her opponent Mayor Van Johnson won 62 percent of voters against the incumbent Mayor Eddie DeLoach; he also won approximately 60 percent of Woodville and 70 percent of Carver Village. 

In the past election, the communities of Carver Village and Woodville contributed around 585 voters. Winning over these communities is vital for Gibson-Carter as it could boost her chances in the race with Johnson.

Other mayoral candidates include Nik Fussell and Tyrisha Davis. 

Jabari Gibbs, from Atlanta, Georgia, is a senior at Georgia Southern University.  Majoring in communications, he is the Editor-in-Chief for The George-Anne Inkwell.  His investigative pieces have led...